A regional “gold rush” to legalize and regulate sports betting is on in the nation’s capital and surrounding states, as the District of Columbia looks to beat regional neighbors Virginia and Maryland to the punch.
Less than two weeks ago, New Mexico became the fifth state other than Nevada to offer legal sports betting since a Supreme Court ruling repealed the previous ban in May – following Delaware, New Jersey, West Virginia, and Mississippi – but the Beltway area has three jurisdictions vying to join that list.
In a hearing held on October 17, members of the Council of the District of Columbia convened to discuss the potential for legalized sports betting in the capital.
One day later, D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced a bill known as the “Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018.”
In a press release, Evans outlined his competitive motivations for pursuing sports betting regulation as soon as possible:
“Today, we take the first steps towards capturing this exciting new stream of revenue, instead of watching District resident dollars fill the coffers of other jurisdictions.
The District of Columbia will be the leader in a fast-growing industry.
The city should take advantage of our ability to act before the Maryland or Virginia legislatures to create a thriving sports betting market.”
The D.C. Council is currently in session throughout the remainder of 2018, while the state legislatures in both Virginia and Maryland won’t resume session until January.
As he told the Washington Post, based on this monthlong “head start,” Evans hopes to have his bill passed, ratified, and implemented in time for the upcoming 2019 Major League Baseball (MLB) season in late March:
“If we can get up and running before Maryland and Virginia and some of the other jurisdictions, we can capture the market.
“Knock on wood, everything goes according to plan, it could be by [Major League Baseball] Opening Day.”
As of now, sports betting enthusiasts in the region need only drive an hour or so northwest to the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, a West Virginia sportsbook which opened for business in late August.
And per state delegate Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) of the Virginia General Assembly, that will remain the case until at least July of next year.
Simon plans to introduce his own sports betting bill when the Assembly’s next session begins in January, a move he says will counter gaming dollars flowing to neighboring states:
“I think there will be some appetite for this. I think there is certainly a revenue opportunity in Virginia.
We already see a lot of our residents’ dollars go across the river to the MGM (National Harbor) casino (in Maryland), and we lose out on a lot of opportunities to capture some of that revenue.”
But between debate, passage, and implementation of his bill, Simon told local news outlets that Virginia bettors will have to travel for the foreseeable future. Virginia has no casinos through which to facilitate sportsbook operations, but Simon is eyeing the state’s horse racing industry as a likely partner.
As for Maryland, the General Assembly resumes session in January, but as Shareese DeLeaver-Churchill – a spokeswoman for Governor Larry Hogan – pointed out to local news outlets, state law requires voters to approve a ballot referendum:
“Legalizing sports betting in Maryland will require action by the General Assembly and ultimately a referendum on the ballot.
The governor has previously expressed support for the rights of states to make this determination and we anticipate this issue will be debated in the next legislative session.”
As such, sports betting can’t come to Maryland until November of 2020 at the earliest.